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St. Paul school's unique safety features inspiring other Minnesota schools to craft better emergency plans

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A charter school in St. Paul attracts students with unique needs from around Minnesota and across the country. And the building’s safety plan is so successful, the state hopes other schools will follow suit.

Every inch of Metro Deaf School was carefully thought out. 

“We had a deaf architect working alongside hearing architects,” said Melissa Sweetmilk, the school’s principal. “There’s no other school like Metro Deaf School.”

Years ago, when the school moved locations, administrators had the opportunity to design the building of their dreams, and they added more safety features.

The attention to detail extended to the school’s safety plan. 

“There is always that thought in the back of our heads: What if someone does enter the school wanting to hurt people,” Sweetmilk said. “So when we moved to this building, we wanted to take the opportunity to design our own system.”

How does the system work? For example, say there’s a tornado. White lights will flash in the building, alerting students to look at the nearest TV, which will display images and text about the specific emergency. 

The emergencies are color-coded. While a tornado emergency is blue, an evacuation is green, and a hard lockdown is yellow. Lights throughout the buildings, including in bathrooms and storage closets, will flash with the corresponding color. 



It’s a valuable system for not only deaf students but for those learning English and young children who can’t read.

“The fire department, when they are here, they are always amazed by how fast we get out of this building,” said Dr. Susan Outlaw, the school’s executive director. “It’s always under two minutes.”

Throughout the school’s hallways are lockdown buttons, large red alarms under a clear plastic covering. Students are told to use them if they see something concerning. When the buttons are pressed, the school goes into lockdown. 

So far, there have been no false alarms.

The Minnesota School Safety Center helped design the school’s building, although state officials say that learned from the school’s system.

“The technical features…are something we are able to bring now to schools across the state of Minnesota to help improve their own safety features within their buildings,” said Randy Johnson, the Department of Public Safety’s director of school safety. 

The Minnesota School Safety Center says that while not all Minnesota schools have the same technology as Metro Deaf School, administrators at other schools can make similarly detailed plans to ensure that students with various needs are aware in the event of an emergency.   

Source: CBS Minnesota

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